3 New York Jets Vinny Testaverde is fighting Father Time as he makes one more playoff push

September 01, 2002

Vinny Testaverde, who turns 39 in November, studies the little
chart that has been created for his benefit. It notes the
achievements of every professional quarterback after his 38th
birthday.

John Unitas, starter on a playoff team at 38 but injured, hurt
again at 39 while playing out the string, and finally benched in
San Diego at age 40.

Dan Marino, turned 38 in September of his final season. Missed
five games and had the lowest rating (67.4) of his career.

Well, neither of those will do.

"Here, this one," Testaverde says, pointing to the name of John
Elway, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII at 38. "And this one," he
says, finding Warren Moon, who was effective as a starter until
he was 41. "And how about Phil?" he says, singling out the
Giants' Phil Simms, who had a highly productive year for an 11-5
team at 38.

See? Quarterbacks have been successful at 38, and beyond, and
Testaverde believes he is ready to join their ranks. "I'll tell
you the difference between me and the quarterbacks of the past,"
he says. "None of them was as dedicated to lifting as I've been.
Maybe Elway and Marino did it toward the end of their careers,
but I started young, actually in high school. I used to lift in
my best friend's garage. I always wanted to be strong. People
talk about age and I snicker. They never did what I did."

But old quarterbacks are more injury-prone. "In 2000, the season
after I tore my Achilles tendon, I was a little cautious dropping
back," Testaverde says. "Now I'm not. I'm not cautious about
anything."

In March he underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor from his
left foot. He missed the Jets' off-season workouts, so for the
first time his backup, Chad Pennington, a first-round draft
choice two years ago, took all the snaps with the first unit.
Then on July 30, the fifth day of training camp, Testaverde
jammed his right thumb. It was announced as a one-to-two-week
injury, but he was back at practice a few days later. It was as
if he were saying, This is my job, and I'm not giving it up.

So there are fingers crossed all around. Starting a season with a
38-year-old quarterback with a history of injuries and a backup
who has thrown only 25 passes in his NFL career is risky. Plus,
at the end of last season Testaverde and offensive coordinator
Paul Hackett frequently pointed fingers at each other and
definitely were not on the same page.

The offense could find a new weapon in Santana Moss, last year's
first-round draft selection. A wideout who can get downfield,
Moss played in only five games last season because of injuries,
but he's healthy this year. There are two new starters on an
offensive line that lost its coach, Bill Muir, to the Bucs. The
one constant is running back Curtis Martin, who at 28 had his
finest season as a pro last year. Over the last seven seasons he
has more carries (2,343) than any player in the league.

"I think people just have a fear of fatigue and overdoing it,"
Martin says. "I would love to be pushed to that place. I've
carried 35, 40 times a game, and that's when I feel that I'm at
my best, when I have the most energy."

The offense was heavily run-oriented by the end of last season,
but it was the defense that did in the Jets. When Pro Bowl
defensive end John Abraham went out early in the wild-card
playoff loss to Oakland with the flu, the unit collapsed, giving
up 38 points and 502 yards, 215 on the ground. The run defense
finished 28th in the league, so fixing it was a priority.

Three defensive linemen were imported, including the talented
Josh Evans from Tennessee. Sam Garnes, a 225-pound strong safety,
limited in coverage but sturdy against the run, came from the
Giants. The corners were replaced, with Donnie Abraham and Aaron
Beasley taking over.

Though John Abraham is questionable for the opener after
spraining his left MCL early in camp, the defense should be
better. The offense could be too, provided Testaverde wins his
war against Father Time. --P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: ROB TRINGALI JR./SPORTSCHROME Moss gives the Jets a deep threat, but injuries kept him out of 11 games last year. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS DONNIE ABRAHAM

NEW TWIST

Chad Morton is 5'8", 195 pounds, with a 40 time of 4.4, a
425-pound bench press and a knack for making things happen. Last
year, after coming from the Saints in a preseason trade, Morton
was used mostly on returns. Now he'll be a third-down
specialist, either as a fourth wideout or as a receiver out of
the backfield. He should give the Jets some punch.

ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Jets

"You've got to be concerned about their offensive line. Kevin
Mawae is coming off shoulder surgery. Randy Thomas had his knee
scoped and has a bad shoulder. Dave Szott is out until November
with a knee injury. Kareem McKenzie, who knows? They paid Jason
Fabini left-tackle money, but he's athletically limited.... Vinny
Testaverde is 38. Their offensive coordinator, Paul Hackett, is a
nice guy, but where's the production? They'd better hope that
Curtis Martin stays healthy, because he's the offense.... They
need a second wideout. Wayne Chrebet is a classic slot receiver,
and as the third guy he's better than any third cornerback in the
game, but as a No. 2 he has a tendency to get lost....
Defensively, they're going to play with small ends, unless they
start Steve White, and he's just average.... They have three
defensive tackles, all having faced suspensions [for violating
the league's substance-abuse policy], but I think they got lucky
with Josh Evans. A lot of teams wanted to sign him.... I like
their new left corner, Donnie Abraham. No one in the league has
intercepted more passes over the last six years. But he and Aaron
Beasley are going to have to work hard because the safeties, Sam
Garnes and Damien Robinson, are suspect as far as coverage is
concerned.... I wasn't crazy about their draft. Did they really
need another edge rusher--Bryan Thomas? I can't figure out what
they're doing."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 at Buffalo
15 NEW ENGLAND
22 at Miami
29 at Jacksonville

Oct. 6 KANSAS CITY
13 Open date
20 MINNESOTA
27 CLEVELAND

Nov. 3 at San Diego
10 MIAMI
17 at Detroit
24 BUFFALO

Dec. 2 at Oakland (Mon.)
8 DENVER
15 at Chicago*
22 at New England
29 GREEN BAY

*Champaign, Ill.

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 22
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .484
Games against playoff teams: 7

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Herman Edwards; second season with New York (10-6 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 10-6 (third in AFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 4/29/24; defense 28/7/19

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Vinny Testaverde 108
441 att. 260 comp. 59.0% 2,752 yds. 15 TDs 14 int. 75.3 rtg.

RB Curtis Martin 12
333 att. 1,513 yds. 4.5 avg. 53 rec. 320 yds. 6.0 avg. 10 TDs

RB LaMont Jordan 248
39 att. 292 yds. 7.5 avg. 7 rec. 44 yds. 6.3 avg. 2 TDs

FB Richie Anderson 201
26 att. 102 yds. 3.9 avg. 40 rec. 252 yds. 6.3 avg. 2 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Laveranues Coles 98 59 rec. 868 yds. 7 TDs
WR Wayne Chrebet 112 56 rec. 750 yds. 1 TD
WR Santana Moss 144 2 rec. 40 yds. 0 TDs
TE Anthony Becht 136 36 rec. 321 yds. 5 TDs
K John Hall 261 32/32 XPs 24/31 FGs 104 pts.
PR Santana Moss 144 6 ret. 13.7 avg. 0 TDs
KR Chad Morton 345 12 ret. 20.6 avg. 0 TDs

LT Jason Fabini 6'7" 304 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG J.P. Machado 6'4" 300 lbs. 16 games 3 starts
C Kevin Mawae 6'4" 289 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Randy Thomas 6'4" 301 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
RT Kareem McKenzie 6'6" 327 lbs. 8 games 0 starts

DEFENSE

LE Shaun Ellis 27 tackles 5 sacks
LT Josh Evans[N] 40 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
RT Jason Ferguson 46 tackles 1 sack
RE John Abraham 53 tackles 13 sacks
OLB Mo Lewis 76 tackles 3 sacks
MLB Marvin Jones 95 tackles 1 sack
OLB Sam Cowart[N,1] 130 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
CB Donnie Abraham[N] 29 tackles 6 int.
SS Sam Garnes[N] 59 tackles 1 int.
FS Damien Robinson 37 tackles 2 int.
CB Aaron Beasley[N] 36 tackles 3 int.
P Matt Turk[N] 81 punts 41.0 avg.

[N] New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
[1]2000 statistics

"Abraham and Beasley are going to have to work hard because the
safeties are suspect."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)